Dara Ó Briain: 'The internet has become a torrent of disinformation'
It's made 'nerds' like himself cooler, but the web's accountability for spreading ludicrous stories is the greater focus of the comic's new tour which comes to Derry next week
Dara Ó Briain has made a real name for himself as a TV presenter in recent years. He has shone fronting shows as diverse as Mock the Week, Stargazing Live, Robot Wars, The Apprentice: You’re Fired!, to name just a handful.
But, we're sure you’ll be delighted to learn, Ó Briain has recently returned to his first love: stand-up. He is currently on a mammoth national tour with a brand-new show entitled Voice of Reason. 'It’s my job,' the comedian enthused before setting off – 'I can't wait!'
Tickets for the tour, which stretches to the end of the year and includes four nights at the Millennium Forum in Derry this month and two at the Belfast Waterfront in September, have proved so popular that Ó Briain has just added another 22 dates to the schedule.
It is no surprise that tickets for Voice of Reason have been flying off the shelves. Ó Briain's shows are always hugely popular for the simple reason that he's one of the most brilliant live comedians in the business. A dazzling wit and a magnetic stage presence, he possesses a breath-taking ability to create superb off-the-cuff material out of thin air.
A graduate in mathematics and theoretical physics from University College Dublin, 46-year-old Dara also manifests a razor-sharp intelligence that he uses to hilarious effect in dismantling all sorts of bogus theories.
An hour in his company simply flies by. He starts by underlining how pleased he is to be performing to a live audience again. 'Doing stand-up is a euphoric experience. The great thing is the anticipation. You’re thinking, "You’re going to love this next bit!" '
What Ó Briain does better than any other stand-up is play to the home crowd. He is fantastic at making a show specific to the particular town he is performing in.
'It’s wonderful to create local jokes that repay three or seven or even 12 years later,' he says. 'When I play Coventry, for instance, there are always packets of crisps on the stage. That comes from an audience interaction I had 12 years ago.
'Back then, I was chatting with a guy in the audience who worked for a crisp company. I did a joke about it, and when I came back on stage after the interval, there were 12 packets of crisps waiting for me on stage! Many people in Coventry remember that. So that’s the reason why the crisps are still there.'
He also recalls the trademark of his visits to Norwich. 'There’s a giant duck outside Norwich that I always refer to repeatedly when I’m there. A picture of the duck is on a brown tourism sign next to a picture of a church. Why is the duck the same size as the church?'
In Voice of Reason, Ó Briain will be discussing such topics as the ordinariness of his daily life. 'If there is a theme to the show, it is that at the age of 46, I have an incredibly normal life!' he declares.
On stage, he'll also be mulling over the rise of the nerd. The comic observes that, 'Nerds have become much cooler recently. Thanks to the internet, they can find each other now. It’s very positive.'
In addition, Ó Briain will be talking about his on-screen relationship with Professor Brian Cox on Stargazing Live. 'When Brian and I work together, he is the expert and I am the broadcaster,' he says. 'When he is talking, sometimes a producer says into my earpiece: "A plane is now hovering over Scandinavia with shots of the aurora borealis. We have to cut to that."
'So at those moments, I have to interrupt Brian. But furious viewers then write in saying, "Why did you interrupt Professor Brian Cox? I was enjoying watching him!" '
'They genuinely think I interrupt Brian because I’m jealous of him,' he adds. 'They imagine I’m saying, "Sorry to interrupt you, Brian, but it is not going to be all about you tonight. I also know things that I want to tell the audience’. Brian and I find that idea hilarious!'
A large section of the show is devoted to a very funny routine about how Ó Briain has become the subject of a fake news website.
'I go in to the madness of this story about these things that are supposed to have happened to me. The producers of this fake news site have filled in some details. For example, they mention James Street in Dublin. So some effort has been made in producing it.
'But it’s still so ludicrous. The site pops up next to features headlined, "She has discovered the secret that dentists don’t want you to know", and, "20 stars whose lives have been ravaged by drugs." In one of those, they put a picture of Chris O’Dowd beside a picture of Shane McGowan!'
The bit emphasises the extent to which the web has turned into an uncontrollable Wild West. 'The internet has become a torrent of disinformation,' agrees Ó Briain.
'There was a tiny moment where we thought we could use the internet to amplify scientific truths and have a great weapon for fighting lies. But no, that was completely wrong. What the internet is really useful for is more lies!'
Having already released five stand-up DVDs, Ó Briain has become a familiar name and face across the world, and indeed will be visiting more than 20 countries with his Voice of Reason tour. 'The whole thing has opened out and gone global,' he muses. 'I recently walked past a bus stop in Stavanger that had a picture of Russell Howard.
'In Tromsø in the Arctic Circle, I walked on stage and said, "I don’t know how often you have these gigs". And they called out, "We had Bill Bailey here last night!" That punctured my balloon a bit. Bill went on to play Svalbard, which is even further north. I thought I was being a hero doing Tromsø, but he was doing a gig to polar bears in the Svalbard arts centre!'
What does he hope audiences will take away from his new show? 'I get really enthusiastic about science-y stuff. You can see me getting giddy about space. That’s why I recently wrote that kids’ book about space. But on tour, I’m there to do funny.
'This show is an evening of entertainment. It’s two hours of laughing. It’s not meant to be pedagogic. It is not meant to say, ‘You’ll be laughing, but you’ll also be learning.’ Of course, if that happens, that’s grand. But first and foremost, Voice of Reason is just a load of funny stuff. Journalists might write, "Oh, he spoke very eloquently about Ireland".
'But I’m more proud of talking about a giant duck!'
Dara Ó Briain brings his Voice of Reason tour to the Millennium Forum, Derry~Londonderry from Thursday 19 - Sunday April 22. Tickets are available to book at www.millenniumforum.co.uk or by calling the Box Office on 028 7126 4455.